How to do SMALL WordPress projects profitably.

DATE: July 1 2016

Read time: 10 minutes



At WordCamp Europe 2016 in Vienna, the annual WordPress conference, I had the privilege to speak on one of the three stages. The subject of my talk was: “How to do SMALL WordPress projects profitably.” Here is the video and the the transcript of this talk. I believe it can be very helpful for WordPress freelancers and small agencies. 


Let me start with a story…


Please PLEASE hire a professional designer

Chris & Robert

Just two months ago, a friend asked me and my business partner Robert if he could come over to our office and discuss some ideas he had about switching from being an employee to being a self-employed freelance consultant. 


His name is Norbert. And he’s a really smart guy. He has been improving and tweaking production processes for big companies and factories. And though it was a well-paying job, he felt he could do better being self-employed. So others could hire him. 


Like I said. Smart guy :-)


So he came over and we talked for a few hours about his plans. He was very well prepared. He even created a logo and a mockup of a website in PowerPoint. And at the end of the day, the main takeaway tip we had for him was: 


“Please PLEASE hire a professional designer to create a logo, a business identity and a website for you.”

We even introduced him to another friend of ours who is a freelance designer.


So Norbert took our advice and got in touch with Bjorn – a brilliant freelance designer that does everything from Business Identity design to photography and web design. Of course, he uses WordPress. 


Now imagine for a moment being in Norbert’s shoes. He has a wife and 2 children. 2 cars and a mortgage and NOW he decides to give up his secure job and step into the unknown as a freelance consultant. Not knowing if and when he will be hired and start making money. 


AND now he is asked to take 2500 euro’s from his life savings – his security buffer – to invest in a logo, letterhead, business cards and a website. 


Can you imagine how that conversation went with his wife?


Anyway, Bjorn split the budget into 1500 for the logo, letterhead, and business card stuff. Including the printing costs by the way. And 1000 for the website. 


And that brings us nicely to the topic of my post: 


How can Bjorn do this small WordPress project for Norbert for 1000 euro and STILL make a PROFIT?!?


Well, I could talk all day about how you CAN do small WordPress projects profitably, but let me give you a few quick pointers and then I’ll be out of your way. 

The biggest problem ALL freelancers have regardless of their occupation: What happens before and after they do their thing.


Having a pipeline of new projects lined up to start working on and after the job is done, getting the money, doing the invoicing, taxes and accounting. 


Well, this could be a talk all on its own, but let me give you this piece of advice: HIRE someone who is good at accounting and have him or her do ALL of that stuff for you. It’ll probably take that person 1 or 2 hours a week tops but it will take you at least double AND it will take you out of your flow. 


And if you are just starting out, you could offer a satisfaction guarantee. Don’t be afraid to offer this. It will reduce the risk on the customer side and it will increase trust. And when a customer is not satisfied, you can then still decide to abandon the project and take your losses or make an attempt to make the customer happy. 


Be clear about the process


Be very clear to your prospects and explain on your own website exactly the way you work. Explain that there needs to be a certain way to do this project together. Manage the customers expectations. Position yourself as the expert. The project lead. 


Build in 1 or 2 review rounds where the customer can tell you what changes must be made. Then have the customer confirm that if you make these changes the customer will be satisfied. If you communicate this clearly up front, you avoid endless rounds of feedback and changes. 


Be clear on your pricing

You can make 3 offers, 3 packages the customer can choose from. With three different price points. Like does the customer write the copy for the site or do you introduce a copywriter you work with? Does the customer provide images or do you use stockphotos? Do you send over a photographer you work closely with?


Be extremely clear on what is included in your packages and what extra work will cost. 


Maybe you could have 3 different hourly rates: 
One for regular work that you can schedule in at your own discretion
One for drop-everything-and-do-this-now-this-is-an-emergency work
And you could offer a pre-paid block of 10 hours at a discount


Embrace the 80-20 rule


You know: get 80% of the result in 20% of the time?


I know, this is probably the hardest to do if you are a creative person. But you need to understand that when you might consider a mediocre design is still amazing in the eyes of your customer! Remember: you are the expert in the eyes of the amateur, your customer. 


Many designers fall into the trap to not be satisfied and wanting to keep making it juuuuuust a little better. That’s a sure way to spend way too many hours on a project. Focus on the end goal and be realistic about what end result can be expected for this budget. 


Embrace the  80-20 rule


Find tools that allow you to work FAST


One major problem is that the customer has seen some website that may have cost 10-15.000 euro and wants you to build a similar site for only 1.000 euros. For you to pull that off, you need to find themes and plugins that allow you to create a beautiful website fast. 


Save time on the setup


Without taking a cookie cutter approach, you need to find a base set of tools that you need that you can install with only a few clicks. If you want to do small WordPress projects, you need to look at it as an assembly line or as a process that you repeat over and over again, but every time with a unique outcome. But none the less the process is the same and can be optimized. 


Save time during the delivery of the site


When you hand over the site to the customer, you not only hand over the end result, you also hand over the tools you have created the site with. WordPress, the admin area, the theme, and the plugins. 
A lot of time can go into explaining the WP-admin area and the plugins. So look for tools that your customer will understand. And make a non-admin user account for your customer that limits what your customer can do in the admin. It also limits the things the customer can break. 


Upsell a maintenance plan

Sell either a prepaid pack of 10 hours at a discount that the customer can use to let you do extra work on the site. Offer 3 different maintenance plans at three price levels. For instance 


29,- a month for backups and updates. 
49,- a month for backups, updates and being available for questions and 
89,- per month for backups, updates and on average 1-hour work on the site. 


Offer all 3 at a monthly plan and all three at a discount when paid in advance for 1 year. 


This gives you more continuity in your cash flow, allows you to plan maintenance for multiple customers more efficiently and it allows you to maintain the relationship with the customer over a longer period of time which allows you to upsell even more services. Be them your own or the services of other freelancers you work with where you can take a cut. 


Let me wrap this up with a few closing remarks.


SwiftySite helps you with a lot of the stuff we talked about in this post.

SwiftySite is a free plugin, available in the repository, that can help you, as a freelance WordPress designer or developer, to create beautiful and unique websites for your clients fast, easy and profitably


Setup is fast. 

Designing and filling a site is fast and easy. 

And handing over the site to the customer is fast, because you can completely hide the WP admin for the client. 


You can read all about SwiftySite here  :-)


Oh! One more thing!


Wanna see how the 1000 euro website that Bjorn created for Norbert using SwiftySite turned out? Check this out:


July 1, 2016
Chris Vermeulen
General, Small WP Projects, Stories, WordPress, Freelance, Talks, WCEU, WordCamp